Since the time of Christ, baptism has occupied a significant place in the life of the church. Nearly every church today offers the rite of Christian baptism, though they may differ in its administration. Some baptize infants, while others will only baptize adult believers. Some accept sprinkling, while other require a full immersion. Some churches present baptism as a requirement for membership, while still others make it optional.
Baptism was never meant to cause division, but rather to be a point of unity for Christians. The Bible reminds us that among the factors that unite believers are one Lord, one faith, and one baptism (Ephesians 4:4-6). Of the eighty-nine references in the New Testament regarding baptism, nearly every one alludes to water baptism. Often baptism is associated with a key event. Jesus was baptized to signify the beginning of his public ministry. The first converts to Christianity were baptized on the day of Pentecost. Saul, who later was given the name Paul, was baptized as part of his conversion process. Throughout the New Testament, the writers refer to baptism as a significant point in the life of a person who has chosen to follow Christ.
Much of the confusion over baptism today is due to centuries of traditions which have clouded the meaning of this act. Church leaders have chosen to perpetuate practices simply because “that’s the way my church or my family has always done it” rather than look at what the Bible says. The resistance to change is strongest where traditions are greatly valued.
The objective is not to criticize any church tradition, but to answer some of the more common questions about water baptism in light of the teachings of the New Testament. More than anything, what we practice should be consistent with the instructions Jesus gave to and through His apostles. My hope is that in reading this booklet, you will allow God’s Word to speak to you and His Spirit to guide you in knowing how to respond to His invitation to baptism.
Who Should Be Baptized?
In the Great Commission, Jesus said to his followers, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them…and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20). Before the gathering of the first church, the order to build the church included the mandate to baptize disciples. The life of a disciple begins with a commitment to follow Christ, as expressed in baptism, followed by a life of obedience to the commands of Christ. The proper candidate for baptism, then, is one who seeks to be a disciple of Christ.
In Mark 16:16 Jesus said, “He who believes and is baptized will be saved.” Here we are told that personal faith must accompany baptism. Baptism apart from faith has no spiritual significance, since the water in itself possesses no mystical powers. Faith that leads one to submission to Christ, as evidenced in baptism, is the kind of faith that saves. So the candidate for baptism must be a believer.
In virtually every New Testament example where the gospel is presented, the initial response of the hearers involved baptism. Consider the day of Pentecost. When the Jews heard Peter’s message and came under conviction, they were instructed to “repent and be baptized…..in the name of Jesus Christ.” Those who took the word to heart were baptized – over three thousand of them (Acts 2:38, 41). Those who had a heart of repentance were initiated in baptism.
Entrance into the family of God comes through a personal response to the good news. An individual decides whether or not to become a disciple – no one can make that choice for him. This faith is displayed in a commitment to turn away from sin and to let Jesus reign as Lord. Then, in the act of baptism, the believer puts down a stake, marking the departure from an old way of life and entrance into a new life. The person who is baptized is like the Hebrew children who left Egypt and passed through the Red Sea en-route to the Promised Land. The believer leaves a life of captivity to sin and passes through water on the way to a new journey of faith.
Why did God choose this act of baptism as the starting point for the Christian life? For one, it embodies faith and repentance. It reveals faith as the one immersed acknowledges that Jesus truly died, was buried, and rose from the dead. Repentance is demonstrated in the act of submitting oneself to the hands of another in baptism, symbolic of a heart surrendered to God. We present to God our entire being as we identify with the words of Paul: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20).
Baptism is a humbling event, and for good reason! God wants us to be certain that our only hope for salvation lies in casting ourselves upon His grace and mercy!
How Should One Be Baptized?
Three forms of baptism are practiced by churches. Some observe “sprinkling” where water is either dribbled or dabbed upon the candidate’s head. Another common method is “pouring” water on the head of the candidate. A third method of baptism is “immersion,” where the individual is fully submersed in water.
Of the three modes of baptism, only immersion is accepted by all churches that practice baptism. This is largely due to the fact that the Greek word baptisma consists of “the processes of immersion, submersion and emergence.”1 The word baptism refers to a going down into, a going under and coming out of. Baptism by immersion is also supported by the fact that John the Baptist was baptized in the Jordan River and again at Aenon because “there was plenty of water” (John 3:23). Full-body immersion best pictures a spiritual burial, as Romans 6:4 states,
“We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that just as Chris was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.”
Historians verify that immersion was the practice of the church for the first thirteen centuries. This is affirmed by archaeology, which has unveiled baptisteries of the early church. Some of the popular church leaders of the past agree that this is the original mode of baptism:
John Wesley (Methodist) said, “We are buried with Him, alluding to the ancient manner of baptizing by immersion.”
F. Brenner (Catholic) wrote, “Thirteen hundred years was baptism generally and ordinarily performed by the immersion of a man under water; and only in extraordinary cases was sprinkling or effusion permitted. These later methods of baptism were called into question, and even prohibited.”
Martin Luther (Lutheran) penned, “On this account I could wish that such as are baptized should be completely immersed into water according to the meaning of the word and the significance of the ordinance.”
John Calvin (Reformed) said, “The very word baptize signifies to immerse, and it is certain that immersion was the practice of the primitive church.”
When Should Someone Be Baptized?
In the New Testament era, people were baptized as soon as they believed the gospel message. In the biblical examples there is a sense of urgency to be baptized, which is so unlike many churches and pastors who either don’t encourage their people to be baptized or postpone it for months and even years.
The three thousand who responded on the day of Pentecost were baptized “that day” (Acts 2:41). This was also the response of the Samaritans: “But when they believed Philip as he preached the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women” (Acts 8:12). The Ethiopian eunuch asked to be baptized as soon as he came near water (Acts 8:36-38). After Saul’s encounter with Jesus on the way to Damascus, he was told by Anania, “What are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized” (Acts 22:16). Likewise, Cornelius and his household were commanded to be immediately baptized after the Holy Spirit came upon them (Acts 10:47-48). When Paul and Silas shared the gospel with the Philippian jailer and his family, they were immersed “at that hour of the night” (Acts 16:33). A popular Christian writer remarks,
“In the book of Acts, when a person expressed faith in Christ he was immediately baptized… Overall, we can encapsulate the New Testament view this way: a Christian is someone who has committed his life to Christ through baptism. Baptism is not an extra thrown in on Christian life; it is a fundamental point of identity.”2
In every case in the book of Acts, baptisms were performed as soon as possible. None of the believers were instructed to wait any significant length of time. Amazingly, they didn’t even wait until Sunday services! Instead, they were baptized at the earliest opportunity, as a demonstration of their acceptance of the gospel and change in life direction.
A beautiful analogy of baptism is found in the modern wedding ceremony. (This is fitting, since the church is called the “bride of Christ”). A man who loves a woman confesses his love and commitment to her in the marriage ceremony. A spiritual work takes place as the two become one. Similarly, in baptism the believer publicly identifies with Christ as a spiritual partner, and the two become one. In place of wedding vows the believer pledges “a good conscience toward God” (1 Peter 3:21). Neither the wedding nor the baptism is the climax of either relationship, both are statements of intent and are a major step toward greater intimacy. While the wedding is important, the goal is a strong marriage. Similarly, though being baptized is important, the greater goal is a deep relationship with Christ.
Does Baptism Have Anything To Do With My Salvation?
If baptism is indeed a response to the preaching of the good news and an initiation into a relationship with Christ, then it must have some connection with salvation. Although many modern teachers dismiss any connection between one’s baptism and being saved, the biblical imagery speaks otherwise. Baptism is compared to:
- spiritual burial: “We were buried with him in baptism” (Romans 6:4)
- The washing away of sin: “Get up, be baptized, and wash your sins away” (Acts 22:16)
- A covering with Christ’s righteousness: “For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” (Galatians 3:27)
- A circumcision of the heart: “In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature; having been buried with him in baptism” (Colossians 2:11-12).
- The receiving of a gift: “Repent and be baptized..…and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38).
Baptism is always associated with concepts like faith, forgiveness and righteousness. It has no meaning apart from salvation. It fits in the category of faith responses, along with repentance and confession. Although it’s an act of obedience, baptism differs from things like tithing, the Lord’s Supper, and witnessing, which are areas of growth not connected to the initial reception of the gospel. The Great Commission separates baptism from obedience to everything else (Matthew 28:19-20). In a very real sense, immersion is for the believer who is ready to take the plunge into a new life of continued obedience to Christ!
Sometimes people point to the thief on the cross as an example of someone who had saving faith in Christ, but was not baptized (Luke 23:39-43). This example doesn’t hold water for two reasons. First, the thief had no possibility of being immersed after confessing his faith in Christ. Second, baptism is an identification with the death, burial and resurrection of Christ (Rom 6:1-7). It is part of the entry into the new covenant. Since Jesus had not been enacted, consequently, baptism was not required. The commission to make disciples by baptizing and teaching came after the resurrection of Christ.
Is Baptism a Work We Do To Be Saved?
We never want to divert attention from the grace of God, “for it is by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:8). Whenever faith is placed in human effort, whether church attendance, ministry performance, or even our baptism, it is wrongly directed. Faith is only as strong as the object in which it is placed. You can either trust in your own works, which can never save, or trust in the sinless, death-conquering Savior Jesus Christ.
Although personal works cannot save, we still must respond in order to receive the benefits of the gospel. When the Pentecost believers cried out, “What must we do to be saved?,” they were instructed to repent and be baptized (Acts 2:37-38). When the Philippian jailer begged, “What must I do to be saved?”, he was told to believe, and that night he and his household were baptized (Acts 16:30-33).
A patient who follows his doctor’s prescription demonstrates faith and confidence in the doctor. He doesn’t take credit for his own healing, even though some obedience on his part was required. In the same way, when a believer follows the prescription for his spiritual ills, he demonstrates faith in the Great Physician and credits Him with the healing!
Baptism is not so much a work we do but a work done to us! Have you ever considered that of the parties involved in baptism, the person being baptized does the least amount of work! He relaxes while another person performs the baptism. But of all the work being done, the greatest is done by God.
“In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God.” (Colossians 2:11-12)
God is the One who raises the believer from the dead, who circumcises his heart, who washes away his sin, who adorns him with righteousness and who gives him the precious Holy Spirit. In baptism, faith is placed in God and His ability to do these wonderful things for us! You can accurately say that baptism is a work, but not a human work. It is an amazing work of God!
Let me add that baptism is not portrayed in the Bible as an obligation (something you do for God) but as an opportunity (to have something done for you by God). This was the attitude of the Ethiopian who was baptized by Philip. His question was not, “Why do I have to be baptized?” but rather, “Look! Here is water. Why shouldn’t I be baptized?” (Acts 8:36).
Do I Have To Be Baptized To Be Saved?
If baptism is connected to our salvation, must we be baptized to be saved? The answer to this question can evoke a lot of emotion. After all, we are dealing with the most important issue of life. The believer who has not been immersed may feel judged as unfaithful to Christ, or worse yet, not even saved.
Since we ought to speak only where the Bible speaks, we have to agree that the Scripture teaches that if you do not believe you will perish (John 3:17). It also says if you don’t repent you will perish (Luke 13:3). Jesus stated that if you fail to confess him before men, you will not be saved (Matthew 10:32-33). When it comes to baptism, however, there is no clear passage stating that if you are not immersed, you will not be saved.
God is the judge of who is saved and who is not. Yet this doesn’t diminish the fact that He clearly commands disciples to be baptized. That’s why it would be strange to call someone a believer who refuses to be baptized. New Testament scholar F.F. Bruce writes:
“It must be remembered that in New Testament times repentance and faith, regeneration and conversion, baptism in water, reception of the Holy Spirit, admission to church fellowship were all part of a complex of events which took place within a short time; logically they were distinguishable, but in practice they were all bound up with the transition from the old life to the new…”3
Therefore, we would have to seriously question the faith of someone who claims to believe in Jesus, yet refuses to identify with Him in this beautiful act of baptism.
What About Baptizing Infants?
Some churches practice the sprinkling of infants. The words of Jesus are often cited as supporting infant baptism: “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matthew 19:14). However, you may notice that the verse neither mentions infants nor baptism. The force of the passage is about giving children accessibility to Jesus – in other words, let them come without interference. The kingdom of heaven belongs to those who come to Christ on their own volition. An infant is unable to make that choice.
Sometimes household baptisms are cited as evidence of infant baptism, yet in each of the cases of household baptisms, there is no specific mention of children. Furthermore, in each situation the responses indicated that young children were not likely among those baptized. Cornelius and his household praised God (Acts 10:44-46). The Philippian jailer and his family came to believe in God (Acts 16:34). Stephanas and his household devoted themselves to serving other believers (1 Corinthians 1:16; 16:15). Praising God, believing in God, and devoting oneself to service are no the responses of infants.
Children should be baptized..…just like adults – on the basis of faith in Jesus Christ and a repentant heart. Some children come to this point in the early elementary years. Others are not ready until they become teenagers. There is no “right age” when a child should be baptized. The beauty of the gospel is that it’s message is simple enough for even children to understand and accept.
If you think your child is ready to talk seriously about being baptized, we’d be glad to share a children’s study called “Joining God’s Family” that reviews the basics of being a Christian. This is a great study for the child who is asking about baptism or desires to enter into a relationship with Jesus Christ.
Some teachers try to equate the Old Testament rite of circumcision of infants with baptism. One of the errors of Jewish thought was that a relationship with God could be passed on from parents to children through this external rite. Paul emphatically denounces that idea in Romans 2 and 4, saying that ritual void of personal faith has no value whatsoever. Faith makes all the difference. That’s why the impact is so great when a youth or adult is immersed, as expressed by this pastor of a mainline church:
“We found many people out here in California who knew very little of the Lord. When they found Christ as their personal Savior, we baptized them as adults. You know what, those are exciting baptisms! In fact, I’m beginning to think we ought to dedicate our infants and baptize our adults!”
If you have an infant and have come from a tradition where children were baptized, we encourage you to participate in a Parent/Baby Dedication service. This is a time when Christian parents commit themselves to raising their child in a godly manner. Parents wishing to participate in this service must attend the ‘Seeds of Faith’ class, which offers help to parents in creating a godly home environment.
One final note on this subject: occasionally a person will hesitate being baptized for fear that it will offend the parents who had him/her sprinkled as an infant. This is a great opportunity to affirm the intent of one’s parents, which was to see their child grow up to love God. Appreciation should be expressed to the parents who pointed their child in the direction of God and did what they thought best. A person might say to his or her parents: “Mom and Dad, when I was born you hoped that I would someday become a follower of Jesus. The path you started me on has led me to this point in my journey of faith. I hope that you would support me in my desire to take this step of faith by being immersed.”
Should A Person Ever Be Re-Baptized?
The Bible presents one story of some individuals who were baptized a second time. In Acts 19, we find a handful of disciples who knew nothing of the Holy Spirit and only the baptism of John the Baptist. They had never been baptized as an expression of their faith in Jesus Christ, nor had they received the Holy Spirit. Paul told them about Jesus, and they then were immersed a second time.
Sometimes young people, and even adults, are baptized for the wrong motives. Maybe the fear of being left out, or the desire to make someone else happy, or the craving of attention influenced the decision. If someone was baptized for any reason other than faith in Christ, then that person should consider being immersed, this time as an expression of their personal faith and devotion to Christ.
Once someone is immersed for the right reasons, no other baptism is needed. I’ve known people who have strayed from the Lord and feel a need to be re-baptized, but what they really need is just a time of confession and repentance. Sometimes adults think they should be baptized again because they know more now than they did when they were first immersed, yet a person does not have to have complete knowledge to be baptized. If that were the case, no one could ever be baptized! What is critical is a basic knowledge of who Jesus is, what He accomplished for us, and what happens when I commit my life to Him. I know much more about my wife and marriage now that I’ve been married for over a decade, but it doesn’t mean that our wedding was invalid and that we must marry again.
A Few Other Questions
Because of the examples of baptisms in the New Testament and due to the meaning of the word, immersion is a requirement for membership in this congregation. If you have been immersed as a statement of your faith, we encourage you to take advantage of this opportunity to express your acceptance of the good news and to unashamedly declare your faith in Jesus Christ as the Forgiver of your sin and the Leader of your life.
When Can I be Baptized?
We can schedule your baptism for any time. Many are baptized as part of a worship service, which enables family and friends to observe not only the baptism but share in the entire worship experience. Some may prefer a more private moment. Many baptisms have been performed during the week with a small gathering of family and friends. You can talk to one of the staff members to schedule your baptism date.
Where Can I Be Baptized?
Most of our baptisms take place at the church, but you can be baptized anywhere there is sufficient water – even in a lake or swimming pool!
Who Will Baptize Me?
Since we believe the Great Commission is to be carried out by all Christians, any believer may baptize another individual. Most often our pastors perform the baptisms. Yet one of the most exciting events is seeing parents baptizing their children, spouses baptizing their mates, and friends baptizing friends. We recommend you select someone who has been instrumental in encouraging your faith.
What Do I Wear?
Please bring a swimsuit or regular undergarments to wear under the baptismal garment which the church provides.
What Do I Say?
We feel it is proper for the baptismal candidate to publicly express his faith. You will be asked to answer a question or two along these lines: “Do you believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and do you proclaim Him as your Lord and Savior?” Your response would be, “Yes, I do!”
If, after reading this, you have additional questions or would like to be immersed, please contact the church.
Darrin L. Ronde
- Vines Expository Dictionary, p. 98-99.
- Tim Safford, Knowing the Face of God, p. 122.
- F.F. Bruce, Epistle to the Ephesians, p. 70.